BERLIN CENTER Anna Marie Ricciardi has vertical visions

The Western Reserve junior wants to high jump 5 feet, 6 inches.
BERLIN CENTER -- Peer in close. Real close. Look past the red bandanna, the freckles and her friendliness and you'll see Anna Marie Ricciardi bending down 10 feet away from a high jump area, forcing a grin and shaking her head.
Because that's what separates Ricciardi -- what probably separates all great athletes -- from being just another athlete.
It isn't quite dissatisfaction. More a knowledge that even on the day you've done your best, you know you can do better.
The Western Reserve junior jumped 5-feet, 5-inches at Friday's Western Reserve relays, nearly an inch better than her previous best jump. But after missing on three tries at 5-6, she wasn't satisfied.
"It's like a mental barrier," she said. "At first I couldn't jump 5-4; now I feel comfortable doing that. I just keep moving up inch by inch. I know I have the height to get over [5-6], I think I just think about it too much."
Ricciardi already has the school record. She made it to state as a freshman and a sophomore and she's the answer to the trivia question: "Who's the second best high jumper in the area behind Boardman's Amber Bland?"
"She's probably the most gifted athlete I've ever come across here," her coach, David Owen, said. "Personality-wise, she's one of the best kids I've met. She's very intelligent, she's outgoing, very likable and very coachable."
When was the last time Western Reserve had a female athlete like her?
"It's been a long time," Owen said. "I've lived here all my life and she's one of the best ever to come through this district."
Ricciardi runs other events -- she could make it to state in the 300 hurdles and the long jump -- plays basketball (probably her best sport) and volleyball.
She goes to basketball practice after track meets.
"It makes for a long day," she said.
Stryker sophomore Rebekah Perdue jumped 5-4 to win last year's Division III high jump title. Ricciardi sprained her left ankle a month before the meet. No problem, she just switched to her right foot, won the regional title and finished eighth at state.
"That was probably the most athletic thing I've ever seen," Owen said.
Fort Laramie senior Sandy Meyer has the highest jump in Division III this year: 5-6. Ricciardi knows. She looked it up. That's why clearing 5-6 is so important. She wants the state title.
"It sounds corny, but I've actually had dreams about winning," Ricciardi said.
More than sports
Need more? She's in National Honor Society and has a 4.0 grade point average. She knows sign language -- her brother, Louis, was born deaf and plays football at the University of Findlay.
"I don't remember learning [sign language]," she said. "As long as I can remember, I've known how. I used to sit on my mother's lap when she was signing to my brother and that's how I learned."
That's what separates her. She doesn't dwell on what she's done; rather, what she hasn't yet done. Which is what makes her reaction to Friday's jump so telling.
"I'm really confident," Ricciardi said of the state meet. "I think I'll be right in there."
"There's still a mental part she has to overcome," Owen said. "But she doesn't have that fear. She performs better in big meets."
She still has a month until state. She's already proven a sprained ankle can't stop her.
Maybe only her mind can.

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